Last week, I sat down with Cecilia Guzmán, the winemaker for Chile’s Viña Haras de Pirque. Guzmán, who is 37 and expecting her second child later this year, has been at the winery since it started in 2000. She first worked with consultant Álvaro Espinoza before taking a two year break to study in France, then returned to assume full-time winemaker duties at the Maipo-based winery. She's now helping the winery go green by adopting new practices and methods of winery management.
Viña Haras de Pirque, which produces 70,000 cases annually (sending 25,000 cases to the U.S.), was like many wineries in Chile. It was affected by the February quake, though not as severely as others.
“We lost 40,000 liters from barrels and one tank,” Guzmán says. “The barrel room was like pick-up sticks. It was a lot tougher for some [others]. I saw irrigation channels [for watering vineyards] flowing with wine for a few days after the quake.”
Now co-owned by the Matte family, along with Italian vintner Piero Antinori (the pair started with a joint-venture wine called Albis before deciding to share ownership of the winery altogether), Viña Haras de Pirque has become a reliable source for fleshy, loam-, mint- and currant-filled Cabernet Sauvignons, particularly the Character bottling, which retails for about $20. In recent years, as the winery has grown, Guzmán has consolidated the two sides of the operation, viticulture and winemaking.
“Before, the vineyards and winemaking were managed as two separate things,” Guzmán said of the early days at the winery. “Now everything is done together.”
While overseeing production, Guzmán added additional Carmenère plantings to keep up with demand and also shifted the winery to organic grape growing; 60 percent of the winery’s 135 hectares of vines have been organic since 2004, and the rest will begin conversion next year.
“We work almost organically anyway, so it’s not a big change,” said Guzmán. “Just dealing with weeds and the need for more organic fertilizer are the biggest shifts.”
Moving to organic farming means stopping the use of herbicides in the vineyards and tilling-under the weed growth between the rows instead. As for fertilizer, the Mattes will make use of their other passion, horse breeding.
“We have 250 horses on the estate for manure [production], so that’s a lot,” Guzmán said, deadpan. “Horse manure is the best, because of its combination of nitrogen and carbon. We just mix it in with the organic materials left over after harvest.”
Further adding to the greening of the winery, Haras de Pirque has also installed solar panels that now provide three-fourths of the winery’s energy needs. All of this continues the winery's committment to employ environmentally sound practices. For more, you can check out the winery's website at www.harasdepirque.com.
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